Spornia Golf Net – Key Takeaways
- The Spornia Golf Net is MyGolfSpy’s Best Golf Practice Net runner-up for 2020.
- Spornia is a father-son company and has been making pop-up nets since the late ’90s.
- Spornia turned its back on lucrative OEM business to maintain high quality and focus on its own brand.
I’m willing to bet my entire collection of Jan Stephenson calendars that most of us weren’t even considering buying a golf practice net before last March. Then came COVID and suddenly nobody could find one.
California-based Spornia finished a close second in this spring’s MyGolfSpy Best Golf Practice Net Buyer’s Guide. The company is very much a Cinderella story, outta nowhere (sort of) to become a playah in the golf practice net game.
It’s fair to say most golfers hadn’t heard of Spornia before last spring. We want to take a closer look at this company, the father-son tandem that makes it tick and how it came to develop a unique pop-up style of golf practice net.
Buckle up, because it’s an interesting tale of a former high school baseball player, children’s tents and a pretty ballsy decision to say no to the Big Box stores.
Good Field-No Hit
Casey Cho was born and raised in South Korea and his first love – as far back as he can remember – is baseball.
“I loved to play baseball,” says Cho, Spornia’s CEO and founder. “I played second base. I was not a great hitter but I was a good runner and fielder.”
So what does a scrappy second-sacker who’s good-field/no-hit do when there are no ball games left to play? Well, go into business – marketing, specifically. Then he scratches the itch to get back to his roots and eventually patents a hitting net and other pop-up type products.
“In 1996 I was involved in making pop-up tents,” Cho tells MyGolfSpy. “I designed them and had them manufactured and wound up making pop-up tents for kids for Hasbro Toys. It wasn’t all that successful so I went into making pop-up nets for sports by myself.”
Cho is smart and wound up securing patents for his pop-up designs and, by the early 2000s, he set up a trading company to work with big-box retailers. By then he was making pop-up golf practice nets for Callaway as well as baseball practice nets for Easton and Louisville Slugger.
“I love sports and thought maybe I can make some different items,” he says. “Golf was a big sport back then because of Tiger Woods so I started making pop-up nets for golf. By 2003, I added baseball nets.”
This joint venture proved successful for more than a decade. But by the middle of the 2010s, Cho and his son Edward, also his business partner, had a decision to make.
Supplying the big box retail world with product may sound like the Holy Grail of sales but there’s a considerable downside if you care at all about your product.
On the plus side, you’re guaranteed a price and a boatload of volume. And if your product is good, the volume is going to go up. And up. And up.
However, as a supplier, you have to keep feeding the beast. And pretty soon, the beast grows to the point where you’re not just feeding him, you’re serving him. You’re trapped in golden handcuffs, a prisoner of the venture’s very success.
And then something like this happens.
“What happened was they wanted us to reduce the quality so we could reduce the price,” says Cho. “We changed it to try to meet their price but the pop-up wasn’t very good quality.”
Cho was faced with what Roy McAvoy would call a defining moment. Play the game with the big boxes and let the tail completely wag the dog or say no.
Cho said no.
“I said to myself, ‘I know the pop-up system and I own a lot of patents.’ I decided to do it on my own.”
Which brings us to 2017 and the creation of Spornia.
The Spornia Golf Net
Cho decided the best way to get his business rolling was online.
“I thought it would be easy to sell online because I had the pop-up baseball and golf products,” he says. “But it’s not easy. With no brand, it’s tough.”
Prior to this spring, did you give much thought, if any, to the features, benefits and relative quality of a golf practice net? And could you name more than one leading brand?
“The biggest difficulty is people don’t know our name,” says Cho. “If a customer uses our product, they’ll know our quality.”
“Through pictures and videos alone, people can’t really see our quality,” adds Edward. “But once they have it in their hands, they’ll be able to see the difference in quality.”
The primary Spornia golf net – the SPG-7 – came within a whisker of being crowned MyGolfSpy’s Best Golf Practice Net. Cho says it’s unique among pop-up options.
“This one saves space,” he says. “Others take up a lot of space but ours is a space saver and can be used in corners.”
“A lot of golf practice nets, when you use them inside, the ball tends to bounce on the floor,” says Edward. “The Spornia golf net has mesh on the bottom so, instead of bouncing around, the ball will just land on the mesh and not harm the floor or roll away.”
Another feature the Chos tout is the integral target screen. It’s actually in front of the net and winds up taking most of the abuse when you hit balls into it. That adds life to the net itself and it’s much less expensive to simply replace the target screen when it wears out than to replace the entire net.
Keeping Up Through COVID
Remember what it was like trying to find a golf practice net in April? Next to impossible. And even if you could find one, finding a practice mat was on the other side of impossible.
“We had stock but it lasted only a couple of weeks,” says Edward. “We’ve had to do pre-orders on our website every month since spring. We sell out every container.”
Edward estimates Spornia golf net sales more than tripled during the lockdown. He fully expects that explosion to slow down going forward, although the indoor simulator market looks like it’ll be the next big thing.
“We offer a blank target screen for simulators as an accessory,” says Edward. “If you have a simulator and a projector, you can see the results on the screen.”
Spornia’s simulator screen, at $40, is low end but eminently affordable. The Spornia Golf Net All-In-One bundle may be one of the best deals going. It includes the SPG-7 net with a chipping basket, a tri-turf hitting mat, a standard black bullseye target sheet, a white simulator target screen, mesh side panel extensions, foam pads to protect your floor and a swing indicator training attachment for $379.99.
The Spornia golf net itself is $219.99.
Spornia is also partnering with Optishot, offering the SPG-7 bundled with the Optishot 2 simulator.
“We have some more partnerships coming up,” says Edward. “We have a few offerings coming in, so we’re trying to decide.”
The Spornia Golf Net and The Small Brand Dilemma
While the internet and the direct-to-consumer movement give upstart brands opportunity, it’s still a struggle navigating the path to success. Customers still need to be able to find you and trust your brand. Up until now, Spornia’s only real marketing has been through Amazon.
“When we started, we didn’t invest in social media,” says Edward. “We just invested in pay-per-click ads with Amazon. That’s why a lot of people have never heard of the Spornia golf net. We have a lot of Amazon reviews but not much on social media.”
Edward says Spornia is ready to flip that recipe and not put all its marketing eggs in the Amazon basket. “We’re trying to switch it all to social media and targeted advertising.”
It takes a fair amount of nerve to deliberately move away from a known business model. The Chos have already taken that step once when they decided – on principle – to walk away from big box retail. Walking away from Amazon may be an even more daring move.
What will the company be when it grows up? Well, beyond the Spornia golf net, Casey says he wants to create an overall sports company: not just golf, but baseball and other sports. He’s even considering apparel and other accessories.
“That’s my plan,” he says. “Right now, we’re starting with golf. Next year we’ll make other golf products along with some baseball products. Our goal is to become a bigger sporting goods company.”
For more information, visit Spornia.com.
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